Time for acclaim;Leading Article;Opinion

20th August 1999 at 01:00
AUGUST is an increasingly cruel month. More parents and students than ever now brace themselves for public exam results upon which so much depends. And those responsible for the exams in question ready themselves for the frenzied media autopsy (in an otherwise thin news month) which routinely takes as its premise that a few more passing means the questions must be getting easier.

Poor old exam boards. No matter how hard they proffer assurances about objectivity and consistency they invite the "they would, wouldn't they" response. And the ministers and quangocrats who have made themselves increasingly answerable for standards now face an annual summer dilemma: how not to sound curmudgeonly about the achievements of so many without appearing to be complacent in the face of the media barrage filling the pages around all that seasonal advertising from colleges with vacancies for the autumn.

It is perfectly possible that exam standards do change over time. But given that the content and style of many of present day A-level courses bear little resemblance to their namesakes of previous decades, is it even sensible to try to establish that today's chalk is more or less demanding than yesterday's cheese? If the main purpose of A-levels is simply to rank cohorts of students for university entrance, does it even matter?

There are, of course, plenty of reasons to expect pass rates to improve, not least the exhaustive range of government reforms from the national curriculum to local management designed to bring just that result about. So it is not a scandal that once again A-level results have improved slightly. But given the upheavals in schools of the past decade, the growing expectations of parents and pupils and the efforts of teachers, it would be scandal if they had not.

Well done everyone.

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